New pet coke storage site in Detroit will likely get approved, no thanks to the MDEQ

Michigan Department of Environmental QualityRoughly 200 people attended an informational meeting regarding the proposed outdoor storage facility for pet coke. The meeting – billed as a public forum – was hosted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The storage site, owned by Detroit Bulk Storage, is roughly 3 miles downriver from the previous storage site (also owned by Detroit Bulk).

The previous storage site drew health complaints from residents last year and Detroit officials ordered it removed (the company is appealing the order). However, while it did comply with the request to remove the pile, the refinery located in the neighborhood continues to refine the tar sand oil. It is this refinery, owned by Marathon Oil, which is producing the pet coke. The pipe that carries the pet coke is located just several hundred feet from Sherry Griswold’s house.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ms. Griswold about her experience with pet coke and Marathon Oil. Ms. Griswold was there on April 20, 2013, when an explosion and subsequent fire started in a small storage tank. The tank contained sour water, a mixture of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Ms. Griswold and her two daughters

Ms. Griswold happened to be outside at the time and suffered auditory nerve damage. She said when she came inside “she looked in the mirror and notice blood coming out of her ears.” She still struggles with health problems related to the explosion today.

Soon after the explosion, Ms. Griswold started experiencing chemical burns on her skin after spending time in her yard.  Many of the burns on her skin had developed serious infection. She is still experiencing chemical burns due to the refinery. A short video of her experience can be found here.

MDEQ Cites Questionable Studies to Support Its Claims

Most notably during this informational meeting, no questions were allowed by the attendees. Several times the speakers were interrupted with questions from the audience. Each time the speaker refused to answer. Finally, an MDEQ representative shouted “this is not a public forum!” After this declaration several police walked into the room.

The lack of candor may be related to the lack of information on the safety of pet coke. In fact there are only two studies available regarding exposure to pet coke. Even more disturbing is the fact the lead authors of each study are employees of the oil company. Both studies are several years old and of little value in determining whether pet coke is a hazard.

Researchers and a deeper look at the studies leaves little doubt that the studies have absolutely no value at all. At least one laboratory’s methodology has been discredited by past conduct.

Smoking Beagles and Smoke Screens

smoking beagleOne of the lead authors of the study, “Two-Year Inhalation Toxicity Study of Petroleum Coke in Rats and Monkeys,” is John Burns, DMV. He works for a company called Hazelton Laboratories. John Burns is a veterinarian and you may ask why this matters. It matters because Hazelton has been cited several times by the FDA. The citations were for abusive practices regarding animals used in its experiments.

Hazelton Laboratories, now known as Covance Laboratories, is famous for facilitating politicians who wanted to avoid taking action against tobacco companies by conducting questionable studies. The company breeds, sells, and uses a variety of animals for its research.

Funding for this research appears to have been provided by the National Institute of Health (NIH). The NIH funded 123 grants for a total of $28,099,418 to research smoking, of which $10,276,391 (40%) was used on animal testing. The way that Hazelton performed these experiments is sickening.

In one experiment over 200 male beagles were fitted with tracheotomies and subject to “debarking” (removal of vocal cord tissue) to keep them quiet. The dogs were then forced to smoke the equivalent of 6 to 12 cigarettes a day. Laboratory aides would place a lit cigarette, without a filter, at the other end of the tracheotomy tube. In addition, each dog was fed varying amounts of cholesterol.

A number of the dogs died during the study. The study concluded that smoking may have “a possible protective effect” and “lent no support to the suggestion that cigarette smoking increases the rate of development of atherosclerosis.”

By creating these false studies Hazelton delayed crucial warnings of the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. Doctors were encouraged to remain silent rather than warning their patients. In fact a medical journal reported “the failure of many investigators to induce experimental cancers, except in a handful of cases, during fifty years of trying, casts serious doubt on the validity of the cigarette-lung cancer theory.”

The Future

There won’t be another public meeting despite the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s refusal to hear the residents concern and despite any reliable studies on pet coke’s safety.  The decision will be made and announced by press release. Monitoring will be up to the MDEQ which has set up air quality monitors at various points in the community.

Chances are, given the lack of candor by MDEQ, this site will be approved. Keep in mind that residential neighborhoods sit only one-half mile away. Yet those residents have absolutely zero input in the process. There is a strong possibility that their properties could suffer substantial reductions in value. Not to mention the possible effects to their health and the potential for pollution in their drinking water. We should all be paying attention to the lack of justice in this process.

Video of Pet Coke Blowing Over Detroit River:


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